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She shivered. Suddenly, she felt oddly cold.

Cold? No. Come on, Lieserl, think.

Sometimes her Virtual-human illusory form was a hindrance; it caused her to anthropomorphize genuine experiences.

Something had happened to her just now; somehow her environment had changed. How?

There it came again — that deep, inner stab of illusory cold.

She looked down at herself.

A ghost-form — a photino bird — emerged from her Virtual stomach, and flew away on its orbit around the Sun. Another came through her legs; still more through her arms and chest — and at last, one bird flew through her head, the place where she resided. Her cold feeling was a reaction to the slivers of energy the birds took away from her as they passed through.

Before, the photino birds had avoided her; presumably residually aware of her, they’d adjusted their trajectories to sweep around her. Now, though, they seemed to be doing quite the opposite. They seemed to be aiming at her, veering from their paths so that they deliberately passed through her.

She felt like screaming — struggling, beating away these creatures with her fists.

Much good that will do. She forced herself to remain still, to observe, to wait.

Behind her the birds seemed to be gathering into a new formation: a cone with herself at the apex, a cone into which they streamed.

Could they damage me? Kill me, even?

Well, could they? Dark matter could interact with baryonic to a limited extent. If their density, around her, grew high enough — if the rate of interaction between the birds and the particles which comprised her grew high enough — then, she realized, the birds could do anything.

And there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it; embedded in this mush of plasma, she could never get away from them in time.

She felt as if a hard, needle rain were sleeting through her. It was uncomfortable — tingling — but not truly painful, she realized slowly.

Maybe they didn’t mean to destroy her, she wondered drowsily. Maybe — maybe they were trying to understand her…

She held out her arms and submitted herself to inspection by the photino birds.

They formed into a rough column — Arrow Maker leading, then Uvarov, followed by Morrow and Spinner-of-Rope, with Spinner occasionally boosting Uvarov’s chair.

Morrow stepped over the ramp’s shallow lip and began the gentle, hundred-yard descent back into the comparative brightness and warmth of Deck Two.

“Listen to me,” Garry Uvarov rasped. “We’re at the top of the lifedome. We have to get to the bottom of the dome, about a mile below us. Then we’ll need to find a pod and traverse half the length of the Northern’s spine, toward the drive unit; and that’s where we’ll find the Interface. Got that?”

Most of this was unimaginable to Morrow. He tried to concentrate on the part he understood. “What do you mean by the bottom of the lifedome? Deck Four?”

A bark of laughter from Uvarov. “No; I mean the loading bay. Below Deck Fifteen.”

Morrow felt something cringe within him. I’m too old for this… “But, Uvarov, there is nothing below Deck Four — ”

“Don’t be so damn stupid, man.”

“…I mean, nothing inhabited. Even Deck Four is just used as a mine.” He tried to imagine descending below the gloomy, cavernous Deck in which he’d spent so much of his working life. It might be airless down there. And it would certainly be dark. And -

There was a whisper of air past his ear, a clatter as something hit the metal of the ramp behind him.

Arrow Maker froze, reaching for his bow instantly. Spinner hauled Uvarov’s chair to a halt, and the old doctor stared around with his sightless eyes.

“What was that?” Uvarov snapped.

Morrow took a couple of steps back up the ramp and searched the surface. Soon he spied the glint of metal. He bent to pick up the little artifact.

It was a piton, he realized — a simple design he’d turned out hundreds of times himself, in the workshops of Deck Four, for the trade with the forest folk. Perhaps Arrow Maker and Spinner had pitons just like this in their kit even now.

But this piton seemed to have been sharpened; its point gleamed with rough, planed surfaces…

There was another whisper of air.

Spinner cried out. She clutched her left arm and bent forward, tumbling slowly to the Deck.

Arrow Maker bent over her. “Spinner? Spinner?”

Spinner held her left arm stiff against her body, and blood was seeping out through the fingers she’d clamped over her flesh.

Arrow Maker prized his daughter’s hand away from her arm. Blood trickled down her bare flesh, from a neat, clean-looking puncture; a metal hook protruded from the center of the puncture. Spinner showed no pain, or fear; her expression was empty, perhaps with a trace of dull surprise showing in the eyes behind her spectacles.

Without hesitation Maker grabbed the hook, spread his fingers around its base across Spinner’s flesh, and pulled.

The device slid out neatly. Spinner murmured, her face pale beneath its lurid paint.

Arrow Maker held up the blood-stained artifact. It was another piton. “Someone’s shooting at us,” he said evenly.

“Shooting?” Uvarov turned his blind face toward Morrow. “What’s this, paper pusher? Is Superet arming you all now?”

Morrow took a few steps down the ramp, further into the light of Deck Two, and peered down.

Four people were climbing the ramp toward him: two women and two men, in drab, startlingly ordinary work uniforms. They looked scared, even bewildered; but their advance was steady and measured. They were pointing devices at his chest. He squinted to see the machines: strips of gleaming metal, bent into curves by lengths of cable.

“I don’t believe it,” he whispered. “Cross-bows. They’re carrying cross-bows.”

The weapons were obviously of scavenged interior partition material. They must have been constructed in the Deck Four workshops — perhaps mere yards from the spot where Morrow had whiled away decades making climbing rings, ratchets, spectacle frames and bits of cutlery for forest folk he’d never expected to meet.

One of the four assailants, a woman, lifted her bow and began to adjust it, increasing its tension by working a small lever. She drew a piton from her tunic pocket and fitted it into a slot on top of the bow. She raised the bow and sighted along it, at his chest.

Morrow watched, fascinated. He thought he recognized this woman. Doesn’t she work in a hydroponics processor in Segment 2? And -

A compact mass crashed into his legs. His body was flung to the hard, ridged surface of the ramp, his cheek colliding with the floor with astonishing force.

Another sigh of air over his head; again he heard the clatter of a sharpened piton hitting metal.

Arrow Maker’s hand was on his back, pinning him against the ridged ramp surface. “You’d better damn well wake up, if you want to stay alive,” the forest man hissed. “Come on. Back up the ramp. Spinner, help Uvarov.”

Spinner-of-Rope, blood still coating her lower arm, clambered up behind Uvarov’s chair and began to haul it backwards up the ramp.

Morrow sat up cautiously. His cheek ached, his left side — where he’d landed was sore, and the ramp felt astonishingly hard beneath his legs. The sparks of pain were like fragments of a sensory explosion. He realized slowly that he hadn’t been in a fight — or any kind of violent physical situation — since he’d been a young man.

Arrow Maker’s hand grabbed at his collar and hauled him backwards, flat against the ramp. “Keep down, damn it. Watch me. Do what I do.”

Morrow, with an effort, turned on his belly; the ramp ridges dug painfully into the soft flesh over his hip.

Arrow Maker worked rapidly up the ramp. He was small, compact, determined; his bare limbs squirmed across the metal like independent animals. Beyond him, Spinner had already pulled Uvarov out of the line of sight, into the darkness of Deck One.

Morrow tried to copy Arrow Maker’s motion, but his clothes snagged on rough edges on the ramp, and the coarse surface rubbed at his palms.

Another piton whispered over his head.

He clambered to a crawling position and — ignoring the agony of kneecaps rolling over ridges in the surface — he scurried up the few yards of the ramp and over its lip.

Arrow Maker tore a strip from Uvarov’s blanket and briskly wrapped it around his daughter’s wounded arm. Maker said, “They’re coming up the ramp. They’ll be here in less than a minute. Which way, Morrow?”

Morrow rolled onto his backside and sat with his legs splayed. He couldn’t quite believe what had happened to him, all in the space of less than a minute. “Weapons,” he said. “How could they have made them so quickly? And — ”

From the gloom of Deck One he heard Uvarov’s barked laughter. “Are you really so naive?”

Arrow Maker finished his makeshift bandage. “Morrow. Which way do we go?”

“The elevator shafts,” Uvarov croaked from the darkness. “They’ll be covering all the ramps. The shafts are our only chance. And the shafts cut right through the Decks, all the way to the base of the dome…”

“But the shafts are disused,” Morrow said, frowning. The shafts had been shut down after the abandonment of the lower Decks, centuries before.

Uvarov grimaced. “Then we’ll have to climb, won’t we?”

Morrow could hear the slow, cautious footsteps of their four assailants as they came up the ramp.

The Decks weren’t a very big world, and he’d been alive for a long time. He must know these people.

And they were coming to kill him. If someone else had had the misfortune to be on Deck One when Maker and Spinner first stuck their heads through the hatch, then maybe he, Morrow, would now be in this hunting party, with crossbows and bolts of scavenged hull-metal…

A shadow fell across him. He looked up into the eyes of the woman who worked in the Segment 2 hydroponics. She held a gleaming cross-bow bolt pointed at his face.

There was a whoosh of air.

The woman raised her hand to her face, the palm meeting her cheek with a dull clap. She fell backwards and rolled a few paces down the ramp. The cross-bow dropped from her loosening fingers and clattered to the Deck.

Beyond the fallen woman Morrow caught a brief impression of the other three Deck folk scrambling back down the ramp.

Spinner-of-Rope lowered her blowpipe; beneath her spectacles, her lips were trembling.

“It’s all right, Spinner-of-Rope,” Maker said urgently. “You did the right thing.”

“Morrow,” Uvarov said. “Show them the way.”

Morrow pushed himself to his feet and stumbled away from the ramp.

The elevator shaft was a cylinder of metal ten yards across; it rose from floor to ceiling, a hundred yards above them.

Spinner-of-Rope, blood soaking through her dark bandage, leaned against the shaft. She looked tired, scared, subdued. She really is just a kid, Morrow thought.

But she said defiantly, “You Undermen aren’t used to fighting, are you? Maybe those four weren’t expecting us to fight back. So they’ll be scared. Cautious. It will slow them down — ”

“But not stop them,” Arrow Maker murmured. He was running his hand over the surface of the shaft, probing at small indentations in its surface. “So we haven’t much time… Morrow, how do we get into — Oh.”

In response to Arrow Maker’s random jabs, a panel slid backwards and sideways. A round-edged doorway into the shaft was opened up, about as tall as Morrow and towering over the forest folk.

Within the shaft, there was only darkness.

Arrow Maker stuck his head inside the shaft, and peered up and down its length. “There are rungs on the inner surface. It’s like a ladder. Good. It will be easy to climb. And — ”

Spinner touched his arm. “What about Uvarov?”

Arrow Maker turned to the old doctor, his face creasing with concern.

Morrow looked with dismay at the gaping shaft. “We’ll never be able to carry that chair, not down a ladder — ”

“Then carry me.” Uvarov’s ruined, crumpled face was deep in shadow as he lifted his head to them. “Forget the chair, damn it. Carry me.”

Morrow heard footsteps, echoing from the bare walls of Deck One. “There’s no time,” he said to Arrow Maker. “We have to leave him. We can’t — ”

Maker looked up at him, his face drawn and haughty beneath its gaudy paint. Then he turned away. “Spinner, give me a hand. Get his blanket off.”

The girl took hold of the top of the black blanket and gently drew it back. Uvarov’s body was revealed: wasted, angularly bony, dressed in a silvery coverall through which Morrow could clearly see the bulge of ribs and pelvis. There were lumps under Uvarov’s tunic: perhaps colostomy bags or similar medical aids. Although he must have been as tall as Morrow, Uvarov’s body looked as if it massed no more than a child’s. One hand rested on Uvarov’s lap, swaying through a pendular tremble with a period of a second or so, and the other was wrapped around a simple joystick which — Morrow presumed — controlled the chair.

Arrow Maker took Uvarov’s wrist and gently pulled his hand away from the joystick; the hand stayed curled, like a claw. Then Maker leaned forward, tucked his head into Uvarov’s chest, and straightened up, lifting Uvarov neatly out of his chair and settling him over Maker’s shoulder. As Arrow Maker stood there Uvarov’s slippered feet dangled against the floor, with his knees almost bent.

Uvarov submitted to all this passively, without comment or complaint; Morrow, watching them, had the feeling that Arrow Maker was accustomed to handling Uvarov like this — perhaps he served the old doctor as some kind of basic nurse.

As he studied the tough little man, almost obscured by his dangling human load. Morrow felt a pang of shame.

Spinner-of-Rope picked up Uvarov’s blanket and slung it over her shoulder. “Let’s go,” she said anxiously.

“You lead,” Arrow Maker said.

Spinner took hold of the frame of the open hatch and vaulted neatly into the shaft. She twisted, grabbed onto the rungs beneath the door frame, and clambered down out of sight.

“Now you, Morrow,” Arrow Maker hissed.

Morrow put his hands, now sweating profusely, on the door frame. Damn it, he was five hundred years older than Spinner. And even when he’d been fifteen he’d never been lithe…


He raised one leg and hoisted it over the lip of the door frame. The frame dug into his crotch. He tried to bring his second leg over — and almost lost his grip in the process. He clung to the frame with both hands, feeling as if the entire surface of his skin was drenched in cold sweat.

He tried again, more slowly, and this time managed to get both legs over. For a moment he sat there, feet dangling over a drop whose depth was hidden by darkness.

If the shaft was open all the way to the bottom of the life-dome, there was a mile’s drop below him.

He thought, briefly, of climbing back out of the shaft. Could he really face this? He could try surrendering, after all… But, oddly, it was the thought of the consequent shame in the face of Arrow Maker and Spinner made that option impossible.

He reached out and down, cautiously, with his right foot. It seemed a long way to the first rung, but at last he caught it with his heel. The rung felt fat and reassuringly solid. He got both feet onto the rung and straightened up. Then, still being minutely careful, he turned around, letting the soles of his feet swivel over the metal rung.

He bent his knees and reached out for the next rung. It was about eighteen inches below the first. Once he’d gone down two or three rungs and he started to settle into a routine, with both hands and feet fixed to the rungs, the going got easier -

Until he suddenly became aware that he was climbing down into the dark.

He couldn’t see a damn thing, not even the metal shaft surface before his face, or the whiteness of his own hands on the rungs.

He stopped dead and looked up, suddenly desperate even for the dim light of Deck One. Instantly he felt warm, bare feet trampling over the backs of his hands on the rungs, and the clumsy pressure of Arrow Maker’s legs on his shoulders and head; something clattered against his back — Uvarov’s feet, presumably.

Spinner’s voice drifted up from the shaft. “What’s going on?”

“What in Lethe are you doing?” Arrow Maker hissed.

“I’m sorry. It was dark. I — ”

“Morrow, your friends are going to reach the shaft any moment — ”

Something metallic rattled from the walls of the shaft, the resounding bounces coming further apart as it fell.

Uvarov’s voice sounded from the region of Maker’s upper legs. “Correction,” he said drily. “They have reached the shaft…”

Desperately, urgently, Morrow began to climb down once more.

Lieserl lay back in the glowing hydrogen-helium mix with arms outstretched and eyes closed, and felt fusion-product photons dance slowly around her. Following their minutes-long orbits around the core of the Sun, the long, lenticular forms of the photino birds flowed past Lieserl. She let the swarming birds cushion her as she sank into the choking heart of the Sun, floating as if in a dream.

And, at last, she came to a region, deep inside the Sun, in which no new photons were produced.

She and Scholes had been right, all those years ago. The core had gone out.

The persistent leeching-out of energy from the Sun’s hydrogen-fusing core, by the flocks of photino birds, had at last become untenable. A long time ago — probably before Lieserl’s birth — the temperature of the core had dropped so far that the fusion of hydrogen into helium flickered out, died.

Now, its heart already stilled, the Sun was working through its megayear death throes. Despite the slow, continuing migration of the last photons outward from the stilled fusion processes, there was little radiation pressure, here at the heart of the Sun, to balance the core’s tendency to collapse under gravity. So the extinguished core fell in on itself further, seeking a new equilibrium, its temperature rising as its mass compressed.

Lieserl knew that in the heart of every star of the Sun’s mass, these processes would at last take place — even without the intervention of an agent like the dark matter photino birds. Once the core hydrogen was exhausted, hydrogen fusion processes would die there, and this final subsidence, of a helium-soaked core, would begin.

The difference was, the Sun’s core was still replete with unburned hydrogen; fusion processes had died, not because of hydrogen exhaustion, but because of the theft of energy by untiring flocks of photino birds.

And, of course, the Sun should have enjoyed ten billion years of Main Sequence life before reaching this dire state. The photino birds had allowed Sol mere millions of years, before forcing this decrepitude.

Around him there was the noise of his own breathing, the soft, ringing sound of his hands and feet on the metal rungs, and — further away, and distorted by echo — the subtle noises of the forest folk as they climbed. There was an all pervading smell of metal, overlaid by a tang of staleness.

In the darkness Morrow had no way of judging time, and only the growing ache in his muscles to measure the distance he’d traveled. But slowly — to his surprise — his vision began to return, adapting to the gloom. There was actually quite a lot of light in here: there was the open portal at the top, on Deck One, and fine seams in the walls of the shaft shone like arrows of gray silver in the darkness. He could see the dim, foreshortened silhouettes of Arrow Maker and Spinner, above and below him; they climbed with a limber grace, like animals. And in the shaft itself he could see the shadow of cables, dangling, useless.

As he worked his muscles seemed to lose some of their stiffness. He was, he realized with surprise, enjoying this…

“Stop.” Spinner’s voice, softened by echo, came up to him.

He halted, clinging to the rungs, and hissed a warning up to Arrow Maker.

“What is it?”

“We’re in trouble,” Spinner said softly.

“No, we’re not,” Maker said. “We’re descending more quickly than those thugs with the cross-bows. They didn’t follow us down here. So they have to follow the ramps; we’re going straight down.”

Spinner sighed. “Damn it, Maker, I wish you’d listen to me. Look down. See?”

Arrow Maker straightened his arms and leaned out over the shaft; Uvarov, passive, dangled against his frame. “Oh.”

Morrow twisted his head to see.

There was a rough framework crossing the shaft, some distance below them. He felt a sudden surge of hope; was his climb nearly done? “Is that the base of the shaft?”

He saw the flash of Spinner’s teeth in the gloom as she grinned up at her father. “No,” she said. “No, not exactly.”

Maker said, “How far would you say we’ve descended, Spinner? Five hundred yards?… Barely a third of the way to the base of the lifedome, if Uvarov’s dimensions are correct.”

Five hundred yards… They were scarcely past Deck Four, Morrow realized: beyond the scuffed walls of the shaft here were the shops to which he strolled to work every shift. Or had, before he’d become a hunted criminal.

The transient enjoyment leached out of him; a trembling ache descended on his legs and upper arms. There was still twice as far to go as he’d traveled already…

“Do you understand their amusement, Morrow?” Uvarov asked acidly, his voice obscured by his limp posture. “The shaft has been blocked.”

“Maker,” Spinner whispered. “I can see someone moving down there.”

Morrow hooked his arm across a rung and looked down more carefully.

The platform blocking the shaft was quite a crude thing, of beams and plates lashed quickly together, roughly welded. A shadow crawled cautiously across the platform; there was a flare of laser-weld light, a small shower of sparks.

Spinner is right. Someone is moving down there — building the thing even as we watch. Deliberately blocking off the shaft, to stop us. How many times had he used laser tools like that? Thousands? It could easily have been him down there.

…In fact, he realized suddenly, he ought to know who that worker was.

He leaned further out and stared, squinting, trying to make out more of the stocky figure. He saw a sleeveless tunic, brawny arms and torso, surprisingly wasted legs…

“Constancy-of-Purpose. Constancy-of-Purpose.”

At the sound of Morrow’s voice, floating out of the gloom above her, Constancy-of-Purpose started. She dropped her laser weld, which died immediately, and scrambled backwards across the platform she’d been building. Morrow saw how she held her wounded arm away from her body, stiffly.

Morrow clambered briskly down the ladder, shouldering Spinner aside. He reached the platform and jumped down onto it. “Constancy-of-Purpose,” he whispered. “It’s me, Morrow.”

Constancy-of-Purpose got to her feet, warily. She pushed goggles up from her eyes. Morrow saw sweat gleam from her wide shoulders; where the goggles had been, dirt ringed her eyes. “What in Lethe — ”

“It’s all right. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“Morrow. What’s going on?”

“You have to let us through.”

“Us?” Constancy-of-Purpose glanced up into the darkness nervously.

“I have the forest folk with me. You remember.”

“Of course I damn well remember.” Constancy-of-Purpose reflexively rubbed her stiff arm and backed toward the wall of the shaft. “That little criminal shot me.”

“Yes, but — well, she was scared. Listen to me — you must let us through. Past this barrier.”

Constancy-of-Purpose looked at him, bafflement and suspicion evident in her face. “Why? What are you doing?”

“Don’t you know?” Actually, Morrow reflected, Constancy-of-Purpose probably didn’t know… The Planners had most likely sent out instructions to block off all the old shafts, without explanation. All to trap him, and these forest folk. I was just lucky to find Constancy-of-Purpose…

“I’m not stupid, Morrow,” Constancy-of-Purpose said. “I don’t know what’s going on, quite. But the Planners are obviously trying to trap these tree people. And I’m not surprised. They’re killers. And if you’re helping them — ”

“Listen. The Planners are the killers. Or at least, they’re trying to turn the likes of us into killers.” Morrow described the crossbows and sharpened pitons, weapons created from horribly mundane objects.

As he talked, Morrow’s mind seemed to race, making leaps of induction. He remembered how Uvarov had taunted him for naivet'e. Was it really possible that Superet had machined these weapons so quickly, in response to the arrival of the forest folk?

No, he decided. There hadn’t been time. Superet must have weapons stockpiled.

But Constancy-of-Purpose was shaking her head. “I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Believe it,” Morrow snapped. “Spinner — the tree girl — got shot in the arm. By a piton, for Lethe’s sake. Do you want me to show you the wound?”

Constancy-of-Purpose looked up uncertainly. “I… no.”

“Constancy-of-Purpose, if you let us past we’ll be home free. The Planners surely won’t pursue us below Deck Four; this is the last point they can stop us… But if you keep us here, you’ll kill us, just as surely as if you wielded the crossbow yourself…”

Morrow tried to keep control of his own ragged breathing, not to let Constancy-of-Purpose be aware of his mounting fear.

“…All right.” Suddenly Constancy-of-Purpose, symbolically, moved aside. “Hurry. I’ll say I didn’t see you.”

Morrow reached out his hand, then let it drop. “Thank you.”

Constancy-of-Purpose frowned. “Just go, man.” She bent and, with the strength of her uninjured arm, began to prize up a partially welded plate, making a narrow gateway through the blocking platform.

After a moment’s hesitation the forest folk scrambled down the ladder and dropped to the platform, lightly. Constancy-of-Purpose glared at Spinner-of Rope. Spinner returned her stare, thoughtfully stroking the blowpipe at her waist.

“Go on,” Morrow told Spinner. “Through that plate.”

The forest folk hurried across the platform, their bare feet padding, and Spinner began to work her way through the hole.

Now Constancy-of-Purpose stared at Uvarov, still slung over Maker’s shoulder.

“Is he dead?”

“Who? The old man? Not quite, but as near as — damn it, I suppose… If I come by this way again, I’ll explain.”

“But you won’t be coming back, will you?” Constancy-of-Purpose’s blunt face was serious.

“…No. I don’t suppose I will.”

Constancy-of-Purpose backed away, her hands upraised. “You’re crazy. Maybe I should have stopped you after all.”

Arrow Maker, with Uvarov, was already through the platform, and Morrow sat down on the edge of the hole. He looked up. “Wish me luck.”

But Constancy-of-Purpose had already gone, out of the shaft and back to the mundane world of the Decks: to Morrow’s old life.

Morrow eased himself through the platform.

Before long Morrow’s shoulders and legs stiffened up again and began to hurt, seriously, and he was forced to take longer and longer breaks. The base of the shaft — illuminated by a ring of open ports — was a remote island of light that climbed toward him with infinite, cruel slowness.

Now they were far below the deepest inhabited level. Beyond the shaft’s cold walls, he knew, there was only darkness, stale air, abandoned homes. The cold seemed to pervade the shaft; he felt small, fragile, isolated.

They found ledges on which it was possible to rest — to stretch out, and even doze a little. Arrow Maker laid Uvarov down flat on the hard metal surfaces, and he showed Morrow how to massage his own muscles to stop them seizing up. Spinner produced food — dried fruit and meat — from a pouch at her waist; Morrow tried to eat but his stomach was a knot.

He counted the Decks as they passed them. Ten… Eleven… Twelve… The Decks above Four — all the world he had known, really — were an increasingly distant bubble of light and warmth, far above him.

And yet, if this journey was strange and disturbing for him, how much more difficult must it be for the forest folk? At least Morrow was used to metal walls. Spinner and her father had grown up with trees — animals, birds — living things. They must wonder if they would ever see their home again.

At last, though, the time came when he could count the last twenty rungs; then the last dozen; and then -

He staggered a few paces away from the ladder and laid himself out against a metal floor, spread-eagled. Here at the base of the shaft, a series of open, illuminated hatchways pierced the walls. “By Lethe’s waters,” he said. “What a day. I never thought I’d be so happy simply not to be in danger of falling.”

Arrow Maker lifted Uvarov from his shoulder and gently rested him, like a doll, against the wall of the elevator shaft. Morrow saw how Uvarov’s hand continued its endless, pendular tremble, and his mouth opened and closed with soft, obscene sounds. “Are we there? Are we down?”

Maker flexed his unburdened shoulder, swinging his arm around. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, we’re there…” He approached one of the hatchways, but slowed nervously as he approached the light.

Morrow got to his feet. He tried to remember how alien all this must be to these people; perhaps it was time for him to take charge. Picking a hatchway at random he walked confidently out of the shaft, and into bright, sourceless light.

The brightness, after the gloom of the shaft, was dazzling and huge. For a moment he stood there, by the entrance to the shaft, his hands shading his watering eyes.

He was in a bright, clean chamber. It must have been a mile wide and a fifth of a mile deep. The underside of the lowest Deck was a ceiling far above him, a tangle of pipes and cables, dark with age. The chamber was quite empty, although there were some dark, anonymous devices — cargo handlers? — stored in slings from the walls and upper bulkhead. Morrow felt himself quail; the emptiness of this huge enclosed space seemed to bear down on him. And below him -

He looked down.

The floor was transparent. Below his feet, there were stars.

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